Meanwhile, reserve tackle Austin Blaske (knee) practiced Tuesday and “is a tough dude,” according to Smart, “but he is hurting.”
“He is trying his best out there,” Smart said. “O-line is a position that you might get away with a little bit of an MCL because you are not out there in space running and cutting. But he is not 100% healthy. He’s just out there working.”
On Monday, Smart said that sports medicine director Ron Courson told him this is the longest list of injured players the Bulldogs have experienced during Smart’s eight-year tenure. There are at least 15 scholarship players getting some sort of treatment from Courson.
The position most impacted by injury at the moment is running back. Starting the season with only five scholarship backs, there currently are zero healthy ones.
Senior Daijun Edwards played for the first time this season Saturday against South Carolina and rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries. But he played wearing a brace on his right knee, which incurred a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) two weeks before the end of preseason practice. Redshirt freshman Andrew Paul reportedly is fully recovered from an ACL reconstruction performed one year ago, but he did not play in the last game and has only four carries all season. Walk-on Cash Jones played the next most snaps among the backs with 12 and graded third (73.2) among Georgia’s offensive players.
For all these reasons, expect to continue to see more of Dillon Bell in the backfield. A sophomore split end from Houston, Bell is the fourth-leading rusher on the team. He continues to split practice time with the receivers and backs, and the Bulldogs are working to expand Bell’s repertoire as a running back.
“We think he’s a very valuable receiver; that’s what he remains, a receiver for us,” Smart said Tuesday. “His package the first week was a few plays, his package the next week was a few plays and we’ve added plays every week. He does pass-pro, he learns our protections and he’s really a very physical player.”
Bell played 42 snaps against South Carolina, which was fourth among offensive players. That includes special teams. Also a kickoff returner, he’s fourth on the team in all-purpose yards with 130, or 43.33 per game.
At 4-for-7, Georgia already has missed more field-goal attempts than it did all of last season, when Jack Podlesny missed two. The Bulldogs have attempted only one kick of more than 40 yards, and that was a miss from 43 yards by freshman Peyton Woodring.
For the moment, Woodring remains the place-kicker of record for Georgia, but that distinction is up in the air this week. Junior Jared Zirkel – who has not attempted a placement kick all season – has been pitted against Woodring in a weeklong competition in which Smart is trying to turn up the heat on both players.
“They’ve been pretty even, but (including) the outcome of the games, we have to continue to open it up,” Smart reported Tuesday. “We’ve done a bunch of different exercises to try to put some pressure on those guys, and we’ll do the same thing throughout the week. We’ll make a decision, but that’s minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour.”
Coach excited to see Sanford Stadium
Alabama-Birmingham coach Trent Dilfer played 14 NFL seasons, but he admitted to being extremely excited about experiencing an SEC night-game environment Saturday for the second time in his life and the first time as a college coach.
“An SEC football game at night is a way-better atmosphere than the Super Bowl,” said Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback in his first season as the Blazers’ head coach. “I think it’s the second coolest thing I’ve ever been to as a spectator. So, I’m personally really excited about going in and going to an SEC game at night. It’s different. I mean, their slogan, ‘it just means more,’ it’s true.”
Dilfer said his only other SEC game experience is attending an Alabama night game with his daughter. He said his top fan experience has been going to the Kentucky Derby.
Dilfer won a Super Bowl as the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback in 2000. He attended Fresno State in college. Since retiring as a player after the 2007 season, Dilfer ran the Los Angeles-based Elite 11 quarterback camps. He entered coaching at Lipscomb High School in Nashville in 2019. He was named UAB’s coach Nov. 30.
Dilfer’s first season with the Blazers (1-2) has been a struggle. They lost at home to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday and to Georgia Southern 49-35 on Sept. 9 in Statesboro.
“I’m trying to build this thing on embracing challenges and doing hard things, and I got what I asked for,” Dilfer quipped at his weekly press conference. “It doesn’t get harder than playing at Georgia. They’ve allowed 24 points this year. We allowed 24 points in the first half (Saturday).
Smart said he is a casual acquaintance of Dilfer, having gotten to know him in over-the-phone evaluations of quarterback prospects when Dilfer was conducting camps. But Smart is very familiar with one of Dilfer’s assistant coaches.
Eddie Gordon, the Blazers’ offensive line coach, was a graduate assistant at Georgia and worked with the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen from 2019-21.
“A great recruiter, a great coach,” Smart said Tuesday. “He’s a hard worker. I have a lot of respect for Eddie. Of the people that we have had in the organization that have left – someone told me it was 24 guys that have come here and worked in some capacity and moved on to another on-the-field role – he was a guy that was loyal, he worked hard and he recruited a lot of good players here. He was right alongside Sam (Pittman), right alongside Matt Luke, right alongside (Stacy) Searels (all former UGA offensive line coaches).”